Thomas Sully III

Tree Hugger
Figure in a Landscape (triptych), 2017, oil wash and chalk on paper, 38 x 92 in.

The history of landscape painting offers up a rich vocabulary for use by the contemporary painter. By tapping into the mother tongue of cloud, tree, pool and stone and combining elements of this language in new ways, I hope to sidestep the pitfalls of a sometimes overly sentimentalized and hackneyed genre. Ever since the 19th century, when romantics placed a high value on the subjectivity of the individual, it has been understood that when painting the landscape or exterior world, the artist is painting the world within. In other words, landscape is as much the work of the mind as it is of vegetation and geology. This idea fits well within my strategy of using the landscape vocabulary to suit my own poetic needs, often including figures who become protagonists on the stage I’ve set. Rather than work en plein air, I work in the studio from sketches, memory and art history, our shared cultural memory.

Regarding portraiture, I still take commissions for eye miniatures, which I love for their intimacy of scale, downright uniqueness and rich historical associations. It is revelatory that one part of our anatomy can stand in as a portrait of a whole person. Often called lover's eyes and popular in the early 19th century, this is a genre that is so old it is new again.

Thomas Sully III, a native of Norfolk, Virginia, is the great-great-great grandson of his namesake, the famed Philadelphia portraitist. After attending art school in California in the 1980's, he found work in New York City as an illustrator for The New Yorker and an assistant costume painter for the American Ballet Theater and The New York City Ballet. In 1996, he relocated to Charleston, South Carolina, the childhood home of his forebear, where he began receiving portrait commissions and painting the Southern landscape. His interest in portrait miniatures began after seeing the traveling exhibition, "Love and Loss: American Portrait and Mourning Miniatures", which included a work painted by his ancestor to mourn the death of his mother. After seeking out the materials for this arcane genre, he began receiving commissions in New Orleans where his portrait miniatures found a ready market. In 2009, he relocated to the mountains of North Carolina to focus primarily on landscape painting. He is currently resides and paints in Nashville, Tennessee.